If you’ve ever seen the musical “Avenue Q” then you already know what “schadenfreude” is (and if you haven’t seen it, go buy the soundtrack now. Seriously, I’ll wait … you’re welcome). Put succinctly it is a German term for “taking pleasure in the misfortune of others.” (See – NOW do you understand why Germany is such an awesome place that I just can’t wait to visit on my honeymoon? How delightfully twisted!)
We all do it - laugh when someone falls down, gets hit in the groin, eats something spicy and smoke comes out their ears (wait, that one might be something I saw in a cartoon) … Heck, our love of schadenfreude is what has kept “America’s Funniest Home Videos” on the air for the past 20-some odd years. But it can be much more sinister as well. Oh sure, we all know that half the reason people love facebook so much is because they can look up the people who were mean to them in junior high and laugh at how fat they are now (though, of course, I would never do that … not to you anyway). While I suppose it’s human nature to see someone who is not doing so well in life and feel a little better about yourself and your own accomplishments as a result, where I see it take a dark turn is when you feel angry or threatened when you see that previously downtrodden soul take a turn in an upward direction. You know, your perpetually unemployed friend suddenly gets a fabulous job making more than you do – and you just can’t be happy for them. Of course, there are times where you feel like someone gets something they don’t “deserve” (based on your own perception of what that person has “earned” in life). But what I’m talking about goes beyond this – I’m talking about those who possess a constant need to feel superior to others.
Think you don’t know anyone in your life like that? Just wait until something fabulous happens to you and you may just see them start coming out the woodwork. You get a promotion – they are putting down your place of employment and calling your line of work a cake walk. Buy a fabulous new house – they start droning on about the mortgage crisis and the folly of those stupid enough to make such a purchase when the market is still on a downward slide. Get engaged – they laugh at the less than 50% success rate of such a silly endeavor and the gross commercialization of weddings themselves.
Or they simple twirl their hair Penelope-style and say “Oh yeah? Well, I’ve got six houses, make $7.5 million a year at my job riding unicorns, and have a dozen men competing to the death for my hand in marriage.”
Either way, these people exist … and they’re probably masquerading as your “friend.” I found a few of them hiding out in my friend banks when I got engaged – people who were always there for me in the tough times but who, once things got great again, were not happy for me at all. I had trumped them. Gotten something they didn’t want me to have. Exposed the things they were not happy about in their own lives. It’s sad – and I’ll be feeling sorry for them (but not really thinking about them at all) as I jet off on my fabulous honeymoon that, were I still speaking to these people, they would surely put down by bragging about the dozens of countries they’ve been to, all of which are more exciting and exotic than boring old Deutschland (and, really, isn’t Europe such a pedestrian choice for a honeymoon anyway).
And I figure, hey, at least I’ll know one German term while I’m there (though I’m much more likely to hear Bavarians shouting “bier!” than “schadenfreude”). Actually, I do know a couple more – my father told me the German word for “constipation” is “farfrompoopin,” and that “bra” translates to “keepsthemfromfloppin,” but I can’t seem to confirm these in any language translation dictionaries. But, I really do feel the need to learn a bit more of the language – mostly so I can decipher the spam.
It’s true, I have traveled to dozens of countries before (and I ride 6 unicorns to work, where I make 70 billion dollars a year) and I’ve never bothered to learn more than a few essential words. Actually, I’m your typical nasty American tourist who just walks up to Parisians and demands “Where is Noter Dame?” like a moron. And, hey, it’s worked thus far. Plus, on this trip, GAR and I will have the added benefit of traveling with a tour guide who speaks the language fluently – a luxury we’ve never had before. No, I’m not worried about communicating with others in a foreign land – I’m worried about not being able to read all this fascinating Oktoberfest-related spam that has been flooding into my inbox. A few times a week I get a German-language newsletter that, seemingly, appears to have all sorts of great information about what is happening at the “weizen” this year. What am I missing out on? What fun is going on that I could be a part of if only I understood this language full of words that in no way remind me of those found in other languages I know (which is mainly just English … and, to be fair, “beer” and “bier” are pretty much the same – what else do I need)?
I plugged some copy from the most recent mailing into Yahoo’s language translator and it came back with this:
“Love Octoberfest fans, in 52 days the famous Trachtenumzug makes itself the way to the Theresienwiese. For 7 years we make possible for our guests to be very close and one of the most beautiful views of the removal enjoy thereby. Also in this year we load at the 1st Wies' N-Sunday to the traditional Trachtenbrunch. Loosely geht´s starting from 9:30 clock in „the spade house at the opera “. Experience the Trachtenumzug with best Bavarian Brunch from the house Kuffler. Whom it then still on the Wies' n pulls, for goes it with the bus into the beetles Wies' n Schänke to the exclusive Wies' N-prelude! We are pleased to be allowed to bergüßen you with the Trachtenbrunch. Menu in the beetles pointed `n-Schänke. Alternatively we can " Spade house to the Oper" without " Beetle Wies' n Schänke" offer."
Something about brunch? I love brunch! But, alas, I guess I will never know … unless one of my fancy-pants former friends counts “German” among the 17 languages they’re fluent in. No? Well, I guess you can’t be better than everyone at everything. I guess I’ll just skip brunch and instead grab a world-famous Bavarian hot chocolate from the restaurant at the Four Seasons (oh, did I not mention we’re staying at the Four Seasons? Yes, well, I’m sure it’s not as great as the place you stayed that one time you helped starving children in a remote area of Timbuktu).